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Karácsony wins opposition primary for Budapest mayor

Zugló Mayor Gergely Karácsony has won the opposition primary for mayor of Budapest and is set to face off against incumbent Mayor István Tarlós in municipal elections in the fall. However, while the opposition has pledged to unite behind Karácsony, media celebrity Róbert Puzsér says he will still run for mayor.

Karácsony on the campaign trail (photo: Facebook)

In what news wire Reuters described as the first formal primary in Hungary’s history, Karácsony - backed by the Socialist Party (MSzP) and Dialogue for Hungary (PM) - received 49% of the votes, ahead of Olga Kálmán, an independent supported by the Democratic Coalition (DK), and Gábor Kerpel-Fronius (backed by Momentum), according to news site 24.hu.

Incumbent Mayor Tarlós previously suggested that the oppositionʼs primary process was nothing more than “agitprop activity,” adding that the candidates were making “irresponsible promises.” While indicating earlier that he does not care who wins the pre-election, he revised his position after the results became known, saying that he is glad that Karácsony triumphed as he wanted him to win.

“Even a qualifying match is a match,” Tarlós noted after congratulating the winner, news site Index.hu reported.

Puzsér spoiler effect threatens

According to a poll by Publicus published last week, Karácsony is the opposition candidate with the best chance of winning against Tarlós. The poll suggested that 26% of eligible voters in Budapest would pick Karácsony, while 27% would vote for Tarlós.

Even so, the numbers also suggest that Karácsony could become the victim of the “Nader Effect” (in reference to the spoiler effect of independent Ralph Naderʼs run for U.S. president in 2000), as the support of independent candidate Róbert Puzsér stands at 6%, while Liberal party candidate András Semer enjoys the backing of 2%. 

Reuters notes that the opposition has been plagued by infighting over the years that the ruling Fidesz has been in power, but that at least in Budapest, leftist parties - “taking a leaf out of the political playbook of opposition forces to nationalist governments in Turkey and Poland” - will now rally around a single candidate in Budapest.

“Hungary got a taste of debate, of a democracy that still exists, that parties can cooperate,” the news wire cited Péter Krekó, executive diector of think tank Political Capital, as telling a news conference after the primary result was announced.

“The city got a chance to show that it wants something other than Fidesz,” Krekó observed, adding that the Budapest primary was a small step in the right direction for the opposition, but that building on any municipal successes to unseat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the next general elections in 2022 would be a tall order.

“Fidesz is more popular than ever,” he said. “The opposition may win in cities, but I would not bank on a seismic shift. These are multi-player games, and I expect less than flawless cooperation among the opposition.”